Governor announces plans to fund all families on wait list for Gardiner scholarship

DeSantis: 'As long as I'm governor, don't worry about the Gardiner scholarship'

By Brianna Volz - Web producer, Nadeen Yanes - Reporter

LONGWOOD, Fla. - Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was in Central Florida Monday to announce his plan to fund every family on the wait list for the Gardiner scholarship.

[RELATED: Gov. DeSantis wants more money for schools, tax cuts]

DeSantis delivered the announcement at Pace Brantley in Longwood Monday afternoon alongside first lady Casey DeSantis, Florida Department of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and former Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner, whose son inspired the scholarship.

The scholarship, which began in Florida in 2014, provides eligible students funds that can be used to purchase approved services or products in order to design a customized educational program for the student, according to the Florida Department of Education. Scholarships can be used for specialized services such as speech or occupational therapy, instructional materials, tuition at an eligible private school, contributions to a college prepaid account and more, the state's education website said.

DeSantis said Monday that he's seen many Florida families benefit from the fund, but wants more families of children with special needs to have access to it. 

"My message is very simple," DeSantis said. "As long as I'm governor, don’t worry about the Gardiner scholarship. It's gonna be there. We're gonna support that and we’re gonna support you guys."

Before the governor made his announcement, Karen Revels -- standing alongside her husband -- shared her story about her 6-year old son named Chancelor.

"About 12 months ago, after he had violent outbursts at home -- that included putting his hand through a glass door simply after we asked him to take a bath -- he was diagnosed with high functioning autism, sensory processing disorder, ADHD and anxiety," Revels said.

Since then, the Revels family has found a learning environment tailored for Chancelor's needs at Walden Community School in Winter Park. However, it's costing the family $12,000 a year in tuition, which is about the cost of a mortgage each month. 

The family has been been waitlisted for the Gardiner Scholarship for a while, and Karen's mouth dropped when the governor made his announcement that every family on the waitlist will receive the scholarship if his budget is approved. 

"It's a weight off our shoulders," Revels said after the announcement. 

As of now, about 1,900 families are on the wait list for the scholarship. The governor said he dedicated $19 million in his budget last week to fund the scholarship for each of those families.

DeSantis said he's confident the money will be approved because he believes everyone will agree that it's money well spent.

“We've dedicated the money and, you know, will have everyone on the waiting list now, when the school year starts, all those families will have a slot, and I think that’s an incredible thing," DeSantis said.

The governor also said Floridians can expect an announcement on the tax credit scholarship in the next couple of weeks, and one later this week or next on his plans to replace the Best and Brightest program for teacher bonuses.

"Right now, as you know, it involves a couple criteria, one of which is the SAT scores for the teachers. I don’t know that that’s the best indicator that someone’s a good teacher or not,” the governor said.

DeSantis said he plans to get rid of the current program and wants to come up with one that rewards teachers who are really going above and beyond to do great things.

The governor said he also wants to roll out a proposal that would recruit teachers into underserved areas by providing financial incentives.

Last week, the governor announced plans to use an executive order to abolish Common Core in Florida public schools by 2020. 

[MORE: What is Common Core, how will Gov. DeSantis' new order change it? | VOTE: Do you think Common Core should be abolished in Florida?]

DeSantis also released his proposed budget for the year Friday. Within it is $21.7 billion in education spending, which would increase per-student funding from $101 to $224. About $60 million of the proposed education budget is for school safety and mental health training. It's unclear how the rest of the funding will be divided up to address the removal of Common Core.

“I'm trying to put the resources where I think we can get the best results," the governor said of his recent announcements on Florida's education system.

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